Chattogram Port: Phantom export raises alarm
Cybercriminals breached the "secure" NBR server to falsely show export of goods worth around Tk 12.78 crore.
The fraudsters used the credentials of two customs officers to access the server and created the records of 24 shipments out of Chattogram Port that never happened in reality.
This is the second time in weeks that the Customs House, Chattogram (CHC) found that scammers accessed the system using the ID and password of its officers.
In the latest incident, the manipulation was done using the accounts of Mahbubar Rahman Sarker and Sha Alam Sarker, both revenue officers of the CHC.
Contacted, Mahbubar said, "Sometimes I logged in [the system] and let someone [who is not a CHC employee] update the information. It's possible that that person did something like this. I am aware that this is a very sensitive matter. But sometimes the workload at the depot is too much, and I have to do this [let the unauthorised individual use the system]."
Amid such scandalous discoveries, CHC Commissioner Fakhrul Alam on Monday issued an office order asking officers not to access the system in presence of any unauthorised individuals let alone allowing outsiders to use the system. Officials say this was not the first time the CHC issued such a notice.
Alam, the other CHC officer, said, "I use my account very carefully. I am not aware of the breach."
The server of the National Board of Revenue was accessed through the "highly secure" Automated System for Customs Data, which is an integrated customs management system for international trade and transport operations of import, export and transit procedures.
In previous incidents that cost the NBR several crores of Taka in dodged taxes, a gang logged in the server using the credentials of the two other CHC officers whose IDs were supposed to be deactivated. Customs is currently investigating why the accounts were not deactivated on time.
In the latest incident, the customs documents show MY Foods Ltd, Nabiha Agro Ltd and Olive Sourcing exported mango drinks, dry cake, puffed rice, spices and biscuit to the United Arab Emirate, Singapore, Malaysia, Denmark and the Maldives.
The 24 non-existent shipment of goods are worth Tk 12.78 crore, according to Letter of Credits (LCs) opened with Trust Bank Ltd and Sonali Bank Ltd.
Government incentive for an export of this value is 20 percent, which in this case is estimated to be around Tk 2.55 crore.
Contacted, CHC Deputy Commissioner Mizanur Rahman said the motive behind the phantom export could be to get hold of the incentive. But there might be other motives.
According to the record in the NBR server, the shipments were "exported" between September and October this year. The clearing and Forwarding (C&F) agent was Banalata Agency.
By using the credentials of Alam and Mahbubar, the scammers marked the phantom shipments from "yellow" to "green", which means they can shipped and the NBR has no objection. 'Yellow' means the goods are being assessed. Mahbubar's ID was used to change the status of 23 of the shipments.
But customs officials recently found out that goods of 23 shipments weighing 420 tonnes never arrived at the Chattogram Port. The other shipment is still waiting at a private container depot waiting to be assessed.
Deputy Commissioner Mizanur said his office informed the two banks not to proceed with the documents related to the 24 shipments.
Abdul Momen, proprietor of the C&F agency Banalata, said, "I did not submit any document related to the export as they did not send us any goods."
Contacted, Mohammad Rasel, deputy manager of MY Foods, said his firm had asked the CHC for suspending the bill of entries as the buyer cancelled the order. He said he had no idea why the NBR server recorded the export as completed.
"The question of enjoying [the government] incentive [for exporters] does not arise since the goods were not exported and no money arrived in the bank from abroad," he said.
Twenty-two out of the 24 shipments belong to his firm.
CHC officials said that they received MY Foods's letter on Wednesday. An official involved in the investigation said, "The exporter sought cancellation after the customs suspended the bank account activities of the organisation."
Since the matter is being investigated, there is no room for cancellation at this point.
Nabiha Agro Ltd and Olive Sourcing did not respond when The Daily Star tried to contact them.
FRAUDULENCE MORE FREQUENT
CHC recently identified that records of 11 imports were tampered with in the NBR server. Officials suspect that the actual number of such scams is much higher.
Last week, The Daily Star published a report on fraudsters using the credentials of two customs officials to have nine imported shipments released, costing the NBR several crores in dodged taxes. CHC formed a four-member probe committee after the report was published.
In 2019, customs intelligence uncovered a series of breaches in the server between 2016 and 2018 that allowed firms to evade large sums in taxes.